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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Rady Children's Seeing 25% Increase In Mental Health ER Visits

Speaker 1: 00:00 The mental health of teenagers is raising concern among healthcare providers. Locally Rady children's hospital is seeing a 25% increase in mental health visits and their emergency room health officials at children's hospital in Colorado have declared a state of emergency due to the increased number of youth with suicidal thoughts there what's causing this and where can help be found? Well, Dr. Willow Jenkins, a child psychiatrist and the inpatient medical director at radio joins us with more Dr. Jenkins. Welcome. Thank you so much for having me. So let's start with the kinds of mental health issues that bring children to the emergency room. I mean, tell us what you, what are your doctors seeing? Speaker 2: 00:41 So children coming into the emergency room for mental health come in for a variety of reasons, of course, but the most common reason, and what we've been seeing most of pandemic is concerns about suicide, whether that be actual actions to end their life or intense thoughts of wanting to die. Um, Speaker 1: 00:59 Are the cases you are seeing more urgent or acute than you encountered say a year ago? Speaker 2: 01:05 Absolutely. We have been seeing situations that are much more acute and much more complicated. And that's been related to a lot of the stress that the pandemic has been bringing to children and their families. Speaker 1: 01:18 And let's talk about that a bit. I mean, what are our teens and youth experiencing as a result of the pandemic? That's pushing them to this Speaker 2: 01:26 Such a good question. I think that there's been the direct effects of COVID-19 the actual fear of contracting COVID-19 and spreading that to friends and family. And at this point in the pandemic, we have children that have lost family members, even parents, the pandemic. So there's grief and there's loss. The other piece though, is that the pandemic has obviously caused a lot of indirect effects through social isolation of school closures, lack of being able to do activities that they normally would do to cope much more time. Online families are stressed. Parents have lost jobs, and this has affected the children. And unfortunately for some children more time at home is not a positive. It means they've been more exposed to abuse and neglect this year, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, obviously there was also a huge interruption in services. So a lot of children that were receiving services through schools or in their home, these services were interrupted. Speaker 1: 02:26 How many more young patients are you seeing? And is this a nationwide trend Speaker 2: 02:32 Here at Rady? Children's we've seen, like you said, about a 20 to 25% increase in mental health visits to our emergency room that translates to about almost 800 extra children coming in in 2020 than in 2019. So it's significant, there is data supporting that this 25% increase in mental health visits to the emergency room is nationwide. And the situation in Colorado certainly indicates that. And Speaker 1: 02:59 Talk to me a bit more about that. I mean, you all had to open a psychiatric emergency room during the pandemic. We did, Speaker 2: 03:06 Um, that wasn't the plan. The psychiatric emergency room has been in the works before the pandemic, because even before the pandemic, the rates of mental health illness in children and youth has been on the rise. Now it's risen more with the pandemic. So in a way it was a bit of a blessing that we opened the psychiatric emergency room because the need was so high. Hmm. You Speaker 1: 03:28 Know, say a teenager is brought in by their parents because they attempted suicide. What happens then? I mean, what treatment options would be available? Speaker 2: 03:37 Yes. So if they're brought into the emergency room after having a suicide attempt, of course they would first be seen by emergency room physicians who are pediatricians to make sure medically they are well after that point, they would be meeting with trained mental health professionals to do a full evaluation and determine the best course of treatment that could be transferring to our inpatient psychiatric unit here at Rady children's hospital. Or that could be connection with some of the wonderful community resources that we have to support children in San Diego. Speaker 1: 04:09 And, you know, you had mentioned to our reporter, Matt Hoffman, there was a crisis in mental health for youth even before the pandemic, as you just said, uh, w why is that? And what is it about modern life? Do you think that propels some children towards self harm? Speaker 2: 04:26 You know, this is such a good question. And one that's so much research is being devoted to, in my opinion, I think that modern life puts a lot of pressure on our youth, whether that's through academics, through being exposed so much more through social media, and a lot of those pressures coming from peer interactions, I feel myself that our youth are forced to grow up much quicker than they used to be able to. And our families have so many more pressures on them. And so many things taking away from kind of the traditional family time where you're sitting and being able to be with your children, um, you know, for significant amount of time on a daily basis. So my opinion, these are all things that have contributed and the pandemic has amplified. Certainly some of these things greatly, Hmm. Speaker 1: 05:15 If parents are worried or concerned about their children, what should they do? Well Speaker 2: 05:20 First I'd encourage them to talk to their children directly to have an open, um, conversation to try not to make assumptions about how their children are feeling. My biggest tip is if you're talking to your child, please make sure that they are talking more than you. That's always a good indicator that you're getting some good information. So first talking to their child. And then if they have concerns seeking out the help of a professional, whether that's through the school, through seeing your school counselor or connecting with your child's pediatrician or other provider to help with that assessment process Speaker 1: 05:56 And know not every family can send their child to rainy. So what other options are there in San Diego county? Well, the Speaker 2: 06:04 Good news is here at Rady's. We actually do take any type of insurance. We even take children without insurance, so we absolutely can help any child in San Diego county, regardless of that status. So we have a behavioral health urgent care in mid city. That's a walk-in clinic for mental health, which is fabulous. And then our emergency room, like we've mentioned, we'll take all comers. We do also have wonderful resources in San Diego available through the county, and they have an emergency screening unit as well that provides excellent mental health care. There's a San Diego county access and crisis line that's available that any family can call and get directed to services through the county as well. Speaker 1: 06:46 I've been speaking with Dr. Willow Jenkins, a child psychiatrist, and the inpatient medical director at Rady children's hospital. Dr. Jenkins, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having me.

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Rady Children's officials are attributing the increase to the adverse affects of the pandemic, both directly and indirectly.
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